By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifeCenter.org.il
“Say you’re sorry to your brother.”
“Say thank-you to Grandma.”
“Do your math homework now.”
“It’s time to practice the piano.”
Before we try to get a child to behave in a certain way or learn something, we have to ask ourselves if the child himself cares enough to want to fulfill our request or expectation:
- Does the child actually feel sorry?
- Does he truly feel thankful?
- Is he curious and interested?
- Does he have inner desire?
We can make (sometimes) a child say “sorry” or “thank you” or practice the piano or do his homework. But when we force a child, we are not really instilling within him something that is lasting. We are putting form before spirit. Before a child can learn form, he must have the spirit for this behavior to be true and long-lasting.
Origin of Spirit
Where does spirit come from? What makes a child truly care? There are three ingredients of mature caring:
- Right relationships — The child must be securely attached to his parent, in the dependent position. He must feel unconditional love and caring from his parent in order to be fully satiated in his need to be cared for, to matter to someone, to feel important in the eyes of someone. Only then can he feel caring toward others. You can compare this to food. If you were hungry and didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, you would not be inclined to invite others to your table. When a child’s need for unconditional caring is met, he can care for others.
- Emergent energy — This comes from the child himself and moves him to learn about what he likes, what interests him, what is important to him, what has meaning and value to him. He can venture forth into the world to discover what he cares about, only if his attachment base is secure and strong.
- Integrative thinking, the fruit of a nurtured spirit of caring — The ability to integrate conflicting feelings and thoughts does not even begin to develop until the child reaches five years old. This unfolding process is the root of true caring. True caring means that you remember you care when you are angry, frustrated, tired, or scared. Caring mixes together with other conflicting feelings and results in a tempered response in the child. Caring becomes part of a child’s nature when he can be angry at his brother but remember that he loves his brother and doesn’t want to hurt him. A child is truly a caring person when he doesn’t like the gift he received from his grandmother but will accept it graciously with a thank-you, because he doesn’t want to hurt his grandmother’s feelings; when he is frustrated by having too much math homework, but he does it anyway because he cares about passing the test.
When we put form before spirit, we can crush the spirit. Some of the ways we try to make children act in a caring way, such as rewarding them with prizes, actually create egocentricity in children because they are focused on acceptable behavior rather than on cultivating the desire to give. Ultimately this can create an “I don’t care! It doesn’t matter to me!” attitude.
Children are born with the potential to care deeply. It is up to us, the adults in their lives, to nurture this spirit before we try to add form.